Ship of Dolls

A few minutes ago, I finished reading one more of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. (Only one more to go!) The book was Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau.

While I’m not one to seek out much historical fiction, I admit that I liked this book more than I thought I would. It takes place in the 1920s, one of my favorite historical periods, but Ship of Dolls is not all flappers and speakeasies. No, this book is set in Portland, Oregon, and it tells the story of Lexie, a young girl trying to find her way after being sent to live with her grandparents. (Sounds a bit like the book I posted on earlier today, doesn’t it?)

The year is 1926, and Lexie Lewis would like nothing more than going back to live with her mother, a singer and flapper who is always the life of any party. That party is currently far away in San Francisco. Lexie’s new stepfather doesn’t think this life is a place for a child, so Lexie is living with her grandparents in Portland. She’s not happy about the situation–especially since her grandmother is so strict–and she longs to be reunited with her mother.

At school, Lexie may have an opportunity to see her mother once again. Her class has been collecting money to send a Friendship Doll to Japan. Letters will be sent along with the doll on its long journey, first to San Francisco and then to Japan. The student who writes the best letter will get to accompany the doll on the first leg of the journey. Lexie is determined to win this all-important contest, travel to California, and be reunited with her mother…permanently.

But winning this contest is not as easy as one would hope. Lexie gets into a bit of trouble trying to get inspiration for her letter, and that trouble leads to even more as her little lies turn into big ones. Then there’s the matter of Louise Wilkins, Lexie’s rival at school. Louise is also determined to win this contest, and she’s willing to do anything to get her way.

As Lexie works on her Friendship Doll project, she continues to focus on being with her mom again. Sure, working on this project has brought her closer to her grandparents, especially her grandma, and maybe they’re so strict for a reason, but Lexie belongs with her mom. Right?

Lexie’s potential reunion with her mother is growing closer and closer, and, soon enough, Lexie faces an important decision. Should she go with her mom on whatever adventure is next, or should she stay with her grandparents in Portland? The answer may surprise even Lexie.


Lexie Lewis’ story is fictional, but it is based on an actual event…and one that I had never heard of. In the late 1920s, Dr. Sidney Gulick organized the Friendship Doll Project, which sent over 12,000 dolls from the U.S. to Japan in an effort to foster friendship and peace between the two nations. Japan reciprocated with fifty-eight Dolls of Gratitude sent to the U.S. While the two countries did eventually engage each other in World War II, the dolls of friendship were remembered years later, and some of them have been found, restored, and displayed in museums.

Aside from the interesting historical events in this story, I think Ship of Dolls is a good book for addressing concepts like honesty, friendship, forgiveness, and tolerance. Lexie, her grandmother, and even Louise grow throughout the course of the book, and it’s interesting to see how their interactions change–particularly in regards to the concepts listed above–as the story progresses.

If Ship of Dolls sounds like the book for you, there’s more to enjoy. A second book, Dolls of Hope, follows the very doll in Lexie’s story on it’s journey in Japan. A third book, Dolls of War, is scheduled for a Fall 2017 release, and there will also be a fourth and final book in the series called Dolls of Secret. You can find more information on all of these Friendship Doll books on author Shirley Parenteau’s website.

With that, I’m going to wrap things up and enjoy my last few hours of freedom before the new school year begins. So long for now!

 

You Know Me Well

Last night, I finished reading You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour. This beautiful book is, at its heart, a story about first loves, first heartbreaks, and being true to oneself…even if that means stepping away from expectations.

It’s amazing that a person’s life can change almost instantly, but that’s what happens to both Mark and Kate. Before that fateful night in a San Francisco club, these two kids had barely spoken. They’d passed each other in the hall, but that’s where their interaction ended. How could they have known that they would grow so close in the span of one night?

Kate, who is running away from a potentially momentous encounter with a girl she’s loved from afar, arrives at the club not really knowing what she’s doing there or why she needs to escape what she’s wanted for so long. Mark, for his part, is at the club with Ryan, his best friend and the boy he’s loved for what feels like forever. Mark’s beginning to realize, however, that Ryan may not feel the same.

After a freeing but out-of-character bar-top dance, Mark realizes that he knows the girl across the club, and he makes his way over to Kate. Both of them need a friend in that moment, and that moment becomes something that will carry both of them through the days ahead.

The two new friends will go through an odd but eventful night at some rich guy’s mansion. Through Kate’s splash into the San Francisco art scene. Through Kate’s meeting with Violet, the girl who could be The One. Through Mark’s confrontation with Ryan. Through so much more that will change how they see themselves, their relationships, and their futures.


This book fills a void in many library collections. Gay and lesbian teens don’t see a lot of love stories reflecting their experiences, and You Know Me Well definitely delivers on that front. But this book is so much more than a love story for LGBTQ teens. It’s a love story. Full stop. Now, that love isn’t always romantic, but who says it has to be? Yes, large parts of the book deal with romantic love, but it also focuses on love between friends, old and new, and learning to love oneself, faults and all. That’s huge.

Anyone–gay, straight, however one identifies–will be able to relate to the pain, anguish, confusion, and joy presented in this book. Many readers have experienced unrequited love. Many have felt they didn’t deserve good things that happened to them. Many have had to deal with changing friendships and breaking free of the expectations others have for them.

In short, You Know Me Well, is a book that belongs in all library collections that serve young adults. It’s at once heartbreaking and hopeful, and it is sure to resonate with teen readers who can all-too-easily see themselves in these thoroughly relatable characters and situations.

For more information on You Know Me Well and other books by Nina LaCour and David Levithan, visit Nina LaCour’s website, Twitter feed, or Facebook page, and David Levithan’s website, Twitter, or Facebook page.

I truly hope you find this book as wonderful as I do!

We Are the Goldens

This morning, I finished a book that, honestly, made me kind of uncomfortable. The book is We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt. (I was lucky enough to read a digital ARC via NetGalley.) I say “uncomfortable” because this book takes a look at romantic relationships between teachers and students (EWWW!) and the toll a secret like that can take on someone.

As most of you know, I am an educator, so this topic is particularly unsettling. Personally, I find the very idea of romantic relationships between students and teachers to be nausea-inducing, but I have known others who felt differently. I’ve worked with some educators who were caught in compromising positions with students. (Most of them are no longer teaching. Sadly, a few escaped those circumstances relatively unscathed.) This is not a situation I’ve ever understood the appeal of, especially from a teacher’s standpoint. We Are the Goldens examines this odd relationship, but it shows readers how a family member of the student may react to what she discovers.

We Are the Goldens is written as a letter (of sorts) from a younger sister to the older sister she idolizes. The reader becomes, for all intents and purposes, the elder sister, and that allows a glimpse into the sibling dynamic that we often don’t see.

Nell Golden is a freshman at City Day School in San Francisco, and she has this fairy tale image of what high school will be like. She’ll follow in her perfect sister’s footsteps, and everything will be awesome. Her sister, Layla, however, seems to be pulling away from what was once a really close relationship with Nell. At first, Nell isn’t sure what’s going on with Layla, but rumors are swirling about her older sister, and eventually, those rumors make their way to Nell’s disbelieving ears.

There have always been stories about Mr. Barr, the popular, young, good-looking art teacher. Every year, it seems that he’s supposedly hooking up with one of his students, but nothing has ever come of the rumors. This year, though, the stories focus on Mr. Barr and Layla. One person sees them at an art gallery. Another sees them exiting a hotel together. When Nell’s best friend, Felix, tells her what’s being said about Layla, Nell is at once furious and defensive. Her sister’s smarter than that, right? There must be some reasonable explanation.

When Nell confronts Layla with the gossip, Layla does have a plausible reason for being seen with Mr. Barr…but Nell remains suspicious, especially considering that her sister is withdrawing from her friends, her family, and is becoming more evasive by the day. One night, Nell walks in on her sister video-chatting with Mr. Barr, and she realizes that the rumors about her beloved sister are all too true. What is Nell supposed to do now?

Layla swears Nell to secrecy and confesses that she’s in love with Mr. Barr. She knows no one will understand their relationship, so Nell can’t tell anyone, especially not their parents. Nell struggles with this. She knows Layla’s relationship with Mr. Barr is wrong, but how can she turn on the one person she loves most in the world? Nell agrees to keep Layla’s secret, but it’s growing increasingly difficult to maintain her cool over this situation.

Nell has her own life to worry about as well. Being on the soccer team and in the school play. A crush on a popular guy who her sister warned her away from. Worries with becoming a target of the rumor mill herself. Nell’s best friend is also going through some tough stuff, and she wants to be there for him. Keeping Layla’s secret on top of everything else is wearing on Nell, and she’s about to break.

Read We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt to learn how one girl struggles with being loyal to the person she loves most while doing what she knows is right.

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While part of this book focuses on the relationship between a teacher and a student, a larger part centers on the relationship between sisters. Sisters keep secrets–from their parents, from friends, from other family members or authority figures. At what point, though, should secrets be revealed? In We Are the Goldens, Nell wrestles with that. Where should loyalty end? Nell wants to keep her sister–and everyone else around her–happy, but what is the cost? Eventually, Nell comes to terms with what she must do, no matter how it might damage her relationship with her sister.

Now, I am an older sister, and I know that my little sister would tell in a skinny minute if I were doing something wrong or potentially harmful. I would do the same for her. This book, then, made me examine would I would have done if I’d been put in a similar position. (If you’re curious, I would have told someone immediately. Of course, I’m a tattle-tale from way back.) I think any reader who has siblings will be able to relate, at least a little bit, to the characters in We Are the Goldens. Maybe it’s a younger sibling worried about the choices an older brother or sister is making. Maybe it’s an older sibling looking out for little brothers or sisters. Either way, I think this book will resonate with anyone who has ever kept a secret for a sibling.

We Are the Goldens is a quick, intriguing book that definitely has a place in most YA collections. Even though I found some of the plot-line kind of icky, I was curious to see how things would play out for Nell and Layla. And even though the end of the book didn’t provide a ton of closure, I was totally satisfied with it. The author left things for the readers to imagine for themselves.

If you’d like to add We Are the Goldens to your personal, school, or public library collections, it will be released to the masses on May 27th. For more information on this book and others by Dana Reinhardt, check out her website and Twitter page.

Sweet Legacy

Caution! It is absolutely essential that you read the first two books in Tera Lynn Childs’ Medusa Girls trilogy (Sweet Venom and Sweet Shadows) before proceeding to the third and final book, Sweet Legacy. As a matter of fact, go ahead and read them over again (or at least skim) before starting the finale. I wish I had. I spent way too much time trying to re-familiarize myself with the events of the previous two books, and that had a big impact on my reading.

Well, it’s not often that it takes me seventeen days to finish a book, but that’s just what happened with Sweet Legacy. (If you read the warning above, you can probably figure out why.) It’s not the book’s fault. If I had read the books in this series back-to-back, my reading would have gone much more smoothly. As it was, I had a hard time remembering what happened in the previous two books, so, when I found myself totally confused, I had to revisit the previous books to refresh my memory. (Ah, the perils of loving books in a series!) This was rather time-consuming. Add this to my job responsibilities, spending time with family, keeping a semi-clean house, and other stuff, and my reading of Sweet Legacy didn’t go nearly as fast as is normal for me.

Once I finally got into Sweet Legacy (and remembered everything I needed to), the story was rather engrossing. It picks up the story of triplets Gretchen, Greer, and Grace, modern-day descendants of Medusa, and their quest to either close or open the door between the monster and human realms. (This may seem like a simple decision, but it’s really not…as you’ll see.)

Grace, Greer, and Gretchen, sisters who didn’t even know each other just days ago, are doing everything within their considerable power to set things right in the world. But what is right? That’s not always clear, and when both monsters and gods are set on killing you to prevent you from fulfilling your destiny, it muddies the waters even more.

The sisters travel through the abyss, through the halls and dungeons of Mount Olympus, and even through their fair city of San Francisco looking for help in finding the lost door between the realms. They will find help among monsters, gods, gorgons, and humans alike (including a trio of guys that do their part to muddle the girls’ thoughts), and all of them will be tasked with fighting in the battle ahead. Ultimately, though, destiny resides in the hands of Greer, Grace, and Gretchen, three young girls being asked to determine the fate of the world as they know it.

Will the sisters seal the door to the abyss forever (and trap all monsters, good and bad alike)? Will they open the door and let whatever happens happen? Or will they truly fulfill their purpose as descendants of Medusa and claim the legacy that has been foretold for centuries? What do the Fates have in store for Grace, Gretchen, and Greer? Discover the answers for yourself when you read Sweet Legacy, the thrilling conclusion to Tera Lynn Childs’ Medusa Girls trilogy!

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Even though it did take me longer than I would have liked to get into this book, I will say that, once I did, I was impressed with how action-packed it was. Truly, there was never a dull moment, and the strength of the sisters was awesome to behold, especially since their strengths manifested in very different ways. Each of the girls presented a role model that embraced not only her strengths but her flaws as well. The sisters experienced growth throughout the series, and they also grew closer to each other and young men who didn’t try to make them fit into a mold of the perfect teen girl. The sisters are loved as they are, fangs and all.

I would definitely recommend this series to middle grade and young adult readers. Those who’ve enjoyed any of Rick Riordan’s books will likely find something to enjoy in this series, and it’s also kind of interesting to compare the mythologies in both authors’ works.

If you’d like more information on the Medusa Girls trilogy or other books by Tera Lynn Childs, I encourage you to visit the author’s website at http://teralynnchilds.com/. I’ve read almost everything she’s written at this point, and there’s not a stinker in the bunch!

Sweet Shadows

Warning:  Read Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs before proceeding. If it’s been over a year since you read Sweet Venom, it’s probably a good idea to reread it (or at least the last couple of chapters) before proceeding!

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I first read Sweet Venom, the first book in Tera Lynn Childs’ Medusa Girls series, quite some time ago. (October of 2011, to be precise.) For whatever reason, I waited until Sunday to begin reading the second book, Sweet Shadows. That was not smart. Maybe if I’d read it sooner, I wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to remember what happened in the first book. Luckily, I did have my blog post for Sweet Venom, but that didn’t exactly provide me with tons of details or how the book actually ended. It did give me a starting point, though, and I flipped through the first book when I needed to fill in any blanks. (That happened a lot when I first started reading Sweet Shadows. My memory sucks lately.)

Sweet Shadows picks up immediately where Sweet Venom ended. Gretchen, Grace, and Greer have barely had time to come to terms with the fact that they’re triplets, descendants of the Gorgon Medusa, and their destiny is tied to a divine prophecy that puts their very lives in danger. Despite their rather obvious differences, these reunited sisters will have to work together to determine just what it going on and what it means for them. They may have some help along the way, but can anything really combat the war that is brewing?

As Gretchen, Grace, and Greer continue to face horrible monsters and unanswered question, new dangers also await them. Exploding apartments. Disappearing mentors. Training to fight. Diving into the abyss. Boys. (Some of these are, obviously, more dangerous than others!) In the midst of it all, the sisters are learning more about themselves, each other, and what their destiny really means.

Destiny, though, may not be as straightforward as they once thought. Keep the monsters in the abyss. Should be a no-brainer, right? Yeah…not so much. It’s a little more complicated than that and may involve actually allowing monsters out of the abyss to walk and live among humans…as they once did. It’s all about restoring balance and is clear as mud to Gretchen, Grace, and Greer. They’re not really sure what they are supposed to do, but they do know only one place–the abyss itself–holds the answers (and the people) they need. Are any of the sisters courageous enough to brave this dark chasm? If so, what will await them?

While it is clear that lots of people (and monsters, gods, etc.) want the sisters dead, there may be others who would seek to aid them in fulfilling their destiny. The question is…who is ally, and who is enemy? Who can these sisters ultimately trust? And what will happen if that trust is misplaced?

Fate, destiny, life–whatever you want to call it–is about to come crashing down on Gretchen, Grace, and Greer. Keeping this dangerous, barely believable existence separate from “real life” is quickly becoming impossible. Is there any way for these girls to hold onto some semblance of normalcy while staying true to each other and the destiny they are attempting to fulfill? Is success even possible? Can these sisters control their own fates and bring light to the shadows in their lives? We’ll just have to wait and see…

While it took me a little while to get invested in this story (which was my own fault), once I got going, I was totally enthralled. Sweet Shadows, like Sweet Venom, is action-packed, and readers will be eager to discover just who these girls can trust and who might be hiding a secret identity. (I still have some ideas about that.)

I also enjoyed seeing how the sisters grew closer together in this second book. Yes, they’re all still very different, but I think they’re learning now that those differences can make them stronger, both individually and as a group. They begin to learn from their diverse experiences and backgrounds, and that’s always a good thing.

The final installment in the Medusa Girls series, Sweet Legacy, is scheduled to be released on September 3rd of this year. Hopefully, I can make time to read it as soon as it comes out! I’m eager to see how the story resolves for Gretchen, Grace, and Greer. Here’s hoping these three sisters get the happy ending they deserve!

For those book cover nuts (like me), here’s the gorgeous cover for book three, Sweet Legacy.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  Tera Lynn Childs’ books, particularly her mythology-based works (Oh. My. Gods., Goddess Boot Camp, Sweet Venom, and Sweet Shadows), are a perfect fit for Rick Riordan fans looking for some strong female characters (kind of like Annabeth from the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series). Ms. Childs’ books might be a little shorter, but they still pack quite a punch.

If you’d like more information about Sweet Shadows and any other books by Tera Lynn Childs, check out her website. This page also has links to the author’s Goodreads, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Before I begin telling you about Stephanie Perkins’ Lola and the Boy Next Door, I must urge you to read the amazing Anna and the French Kiss.  A couple of notable characters from Anna appear in Lola’s story, and it might be helpful–but not totally necessary–to read about their story before diving into Lola’s.  And, honestly, Anna and the French Kiss is a funny, romantic, beautiful novel that you really need to read anyway.  So do that.  Now.

Moving on to Lola…I loved everything about this book.  It’s got it all:  quirky, memorable characters, teen angst and drama, humor, and, most importantly, a love story that readers can really root for.  I also enjoyed that, unlike many other YA novels, Lola’s parents had a presence in her life.  They had rules they expected her to follow (which she didn’t always do, of course), and, in my opinion, Lola respected her parents and wanted their respect in return.  That was a nice change of pace from what I normally read.

Lola Nolan is a true individual. She dreams of being a fashion designer, and she sees clothing as a way to really express herself.  Lola’s appearance may change from day to day, but some things will always stay the same.  She will always be a loyal daughter, friend, and girlfriend.  She loves her dads, she supports her best friend, and she’s devoted to her boyfriend, Max.  In fact, she and Max (who is much older than her) have big plans for the future.  She’ll design fabulous costumes, and Max will enjoy success as a rock star.  All the while, love will keep them together.  (Anyone else have a Captain and Tennille song playing in their heads right now?)

Well, as you know, plans have a way of unraveling…especially when Lola’s first love–the boy who broke her young heart–moves back into the house next door and makes it clear he’s never forgotten Lola.

Cricket Bell was the first boy Lola ever loved, and, now that he’s back in town, Lola must face him, the past, and the rather confusing feelings Cricket inspires.  Can Lola and Cricket put the past behind them and be friends (even though one–or both–of them wants more)?  If they can be friends, how will Lola explain this relationship to Max, the boyfriend who’s been the center of her life for months?

Lola is becoming more conflicted by the minute.  She and Cricket are closer than ever, and it’s clear that there are strong feelings on both sides.  But Lola is still with Max.  Max, an older guy her parents and friends hate, a guy who’s not always nice or there for Lola, a guy who may not be as perfect as Lola once thought.  Will Lola wake up and see what’s obvious to everyone else in the world?  Will she give the boy next door the chance to be the boy that captures her heart?  Read Lola and the Boy Next Door to find out!

This book is an absolutely perfect example of young adult romance.  Stephanie Perkins has captured the very essence of young love and the drama that goes along with it.  Lola, like most teenage girls, is confused yet determined to go her own way, and she wants to be loved by those closest to her…and sometimes she makes things more difficult than they need to be.  I think we can all relate.

I’ll admit that Lola takes second place when it comes to my favorite character in this book.  I fell in love with Cricket Bell (and I think most readers will, too).  He is the perfect guy–not brooding or moody like most guys in YA novels–and he’s my new standard for, well, everything.  Move over Edward Cullen.  Cricket Bell has just taken your place.

If you’d like to read some truly stellar love stories, you must check out both Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door.  We can also look forward to another book to join these two, Isla and the Happily Ever After, due out in the fall of 2012.

For more information on author Stephanie Perkins and her wonderful books, visit http://stephanieperkins.com/index.html.  You won’t be disappointed.

Sweet Venom

As some of you may know, I’m a big fan of Tera Lynn Childs.  I adored Oh. My. Gods., Goddess Boot Camp, Forgive My Fins, and Fins Are Forever.  When I learned that she would be writing a new book dealing with the descendants of Medusa, I knew that I would read it.  Well, I have just finished reading Sweet Venom, the first book in the Medusa Girls series, and I am hooked (which is really not surprising considering my fondness for Greek mythology).  Like Oh. My. Gods., Sweet Venom is a little like Percy Jackson for the teen girl set.  There are monsters, fighting, awkward encounters with cute guys, secrets, prophecies, and long-lost relatives.  What more could a girl want?

Gretchen has been fighting monsters for the past four years.  As a descendant of the Gorgon Medusa (who was not the monster everyone claims), it is Gretchen’s job to fight the evil beings that escape from the abyss.  Only she can send them back to where they came from.  Usually, she only has to deal with one monster at a time–a sphinx here, a minotaur there–and she can go on about her business.  Lately, however, there seem to be more monsters around, and with her mentor Ursula doing a mysterious disappearing act, Gretchen has no one to talk to about what’s going on.  But all that is about to change…

Grace has just moved to San Francisco to attend a new school.  Opportunities abound, and Grace is excited to leave her reputation as a doormat behind.  Things don’t get off to a good start, however, when she somehow makes an enemy of the school’s resident mean girl.  It seems Grace is destined to be a coward.  She wants to be brave, but she doesn’t really know how.  And when she starts seeing strange creatures around her, her battle for bravery is sorely tested.  What are these things, and why can’t anyone else see them?  As it turns out, someone else can…a sister Grace never knew she had.

When Grace and Gretchen meet, it’s not exactly a lovey-dovey family reunion.  Neither of them knew the other even existed, but they soon realize they must work together to fight the monsters crawling out of the woodwork.  These two huntresses must find out why so many monsters are out and why they are so determined to kill the descendants of Medusa.  Their research leads them to some uncomfortable truths–including the fact that Gretchen and Grace are not twins.  They’re triplets.

When sister Greer enters the picture, another curve ball is thrown at the lives each sister once led.  How can three totally different people unite to fulfull an ancient prophecy?  Can they fight monsters while still holding on to some semblance of a normal life?  And will they ever be able to understand something even more mysterious–the minds of boys?  Join the madness when you read Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs.

Sweet Venom is a great introduction to what I’m sure will be a fascinating series.  I’m very intrigued by the idea that Medusa was not the evil being we’ve all heard of.  (Apparently, Athena played fast and loose with the truth because she was jealous of Medusa’s relationship with Poseidon.)  I’ve always liked misunderstood “bad guys” (i.e. Darth Vader).  I also like how the differences between Grace, Gretchen, and Greer are emphasized.  Even though they’re triplets, life handed all of them very different cards.  It will be interesting to see how those differences play out in the future even as destiny forces the sisters to work as one.

I really enjoyed Sweet Venom, and I highly recommend it to readers from middle school on up.  I would definitely push it to female fans of Percy Jackson.  Guys will find something to enjoy in this series as well–especially all the monster-fighting–but this series will find a home in the hands of female readers.

The second book in the Medusa Girls series, Sweet Shadows, will be released sometime in 2012.  For now, if you’d like more information on Sweet Venom and other books by Tera Lynn Childs, visit http://teralynnchilds.com/.